Leave polarization to the magnets
For many Americans, politics is not often about substance; it's about loyalty. One votes for one's party as one cheers for one's home team. As in sports, family tradition also casts its spell on one's political affiliation, as in "dyed in the wool." Both sports and politics offer the petty delights of forgivable snobbery and smugness, but while sports are inconsequential, politics is most certainly consequential.
Several times this year, I have been naggingly lectured on how America has become "just so polarized." The gulf between myself and an old friend recently became so chasmic that he literally made it physically impossible for us to be in the same room. He had always been a bit over the top, but he became verbally abusive and downright cruel. I sadly parted. His politics became unforgiving.
The word, polarized, as in magnetic poles, is the scientific reality of atomic particles, but in socio-political science, it seems a false or, at the least, a misleading metaphor. Polarized implies that both sides are gravitating to extreme socio-political positions. Americans, in their desire to get along, mostly drive in the platitude lane called the "sensible middle." A coworker years ago prided himself on saying, "I don't vote for the party. I vote for the man." He was, a staunch Democrat, but that phrase satisfied him as occupying a "sensible middle."
A standard visual metaphor for left/right ideologies is the clock. If one hand goes right and the other hand goes left, eventually they meet back up at a toxic twelve o'clock. Obviously, then, the sensible six o'clock position is the ideal one.
I reject such metaphors as too neat by half. James Burnham in his book, Suicide of the West, makes the point that "the alternatives to an ideology are not solely other ideologies. There is also the possibility of abandoning ideologies and ideological thinking altogether."
I think the reason for abandoning ideology is that our opinions may actually exemplify bona fide truth or justified practical belief. Though all opinions are not equal, for the sake of freedom, they may be equally expressed (unless canceled). Some opinions are, in fact, not, "just as good as your opinion." Plato called such opinions doxa, a kind of "sketchy" belief, that is in opposition to episteme which means true knowledge. The practical purpose of ideology mostly serves as disguising doxa as episteme in order to push an agenda of ideas that, if truthfully laid out, would roundly be rejected.
For example, there is a clash of "opinion" over whether children should be formally exposed to pornography in grade school as a means of improving a child's sexual health.
This is not a viable debate, since what is there to be sincerely polarized over? Is it not simply the profane trying to usurp the sacred? This is not an ideology versus ideology debate; it is a strategic, pedophilic perversion masquerading as a self-evident solution to a nonexistent problem. Americans by and large still recognize truth when they see it or when confronted by its distasteful alternative. The left wants us to be ashamed of truth and shy away from it.
The world delivers a timeless parade of bad to really bad ideas. I suggest we jettison the whole concept of ideology; eschew the sensible middle; and in its stead, embrace and not shy away from pushing truth. It will go a long way toward vanquishing the virulent facade of polarization.
Spruce Fontaine is an artist and retired college art instructor.
Image: Chris Dodds via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.
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